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Gingerbread stars from Mary Poppins + one year of Food x Books

Inside the shop they could dimly see the glass-topped counter that ran round three sides of it. And in a case under the glass were rows and rows of dark, dry gingerbread, each slab so studded with gilt stars that the shop itself seemed to be faintly lit by them. 

– P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins, chapter 8 

The earliest memory I have about Mary Poppins is of my mom and nani singing "a spoonful of sugarrr makes the medicine go down" when we were kids, but I only watched the film when I was in my late teens, and probably not its intended demographic. I remember liking parts of it, including the word "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", the carpet bag of miracles, the chimney sweeps, and Julie Andrews, of course. I wasn't a fan of the animation. 

A few years later, I watched Saving Mr. Banks and realised P. L. Travers hadn't been a fan of the cartoons either. This film was interesting, apart from the long mansplaining at the end, but it was still a Disney film. As it happened, Travers had been quite frustrated with the result rather than reconciling with it, objecting also to the changes to Poppins' character, her red clothing, the music, among others, and specifically banned any American adaptation of her works in her will. Yet, another American production did come to fruition with Mary Poppins Returns in 2018.  

After all that, I felt I owed it to the author to read her work directly.

Then Jane and Michael saw a most amazing sight. As soon as she arrived at the top of her ladder, Mrs. Corry dipped her brush into the glue and began slapping the sticky substance against the sky. And Mary Poppins, when this had been done, took something shiny from her basket and fixed it to the glue. When she took her hand away they saw that she was sticking the Gingerbread Stars to the sky. As each one was placed in position it began to twinkle furiously, sending out rays of sparkling golden light.

I've only read the first in the Mary Poppins series so far, three years ago, and found it appropriately whimsical and not particularly sugary. The chapter titled "Mrs. Corry", featuring gingerbread, is especially strange and wonderful. Mary Poppins is in a dark mood, which grocery shopping can do to a person, until she arrives with the children at the "very small and very dingy" shop. 

The eponymous, eccentric, immortal (?), slightly mean woman is quite a character – sort of like the anti-witch from Hansel and Gretel, but still not someone I'd want to hang out with. She terrorises her daughters and charms the children with uncanny ease, and knows Mary well enough to communicate with a look. I loved that the book showed us a lot of Mary Poppins' life and people outside her job, such as her love for raspberry-jam cakes, but these incidents almost made her more mysterious.  

It's a special recipe today – one I got from Alfred the Great. He was a very good cook, I remember, though he did once burn the cakes. 

Mrs. Corry may have gotten her gingerbread recipe from Alfred, but I got mine from Sally. I first baked these cookies last year, with great results, and this year I decided to ice them with buttercream frosting (last year, I just dusted them with icing sugar, which was also great). Having tried both, in my opinion, freshly ground ginger works better; and molasses can be substituted with honey. 

I really enjoy mixing this dough with my hands, and the whole process of making the dough and baking the cookies leads to hours of "pretty smells". It's also so much fun rolling out the dough and cutting the shapes, which hold together really well. They're not quite the gingerbread slabs with golden stars described in the book because I combined the project with my Christmas baking, but there were stars, among other things. 

Strike me pink," said Mary Poppins. That was what she always said when she was pleased.

I started this year with the aim of creating one dish every month from a book I've enjoyed, and here we are in December! They were the best of times, they were the worst of times – as with most of my time-bound project "challenges", I went through three phases. 

1. The beginning: I was super excited and inspired about the project

2. The middle: I regretted starting the project

3. The end: I felt empowered about completing the project

I'd long wanted to do a project around food and different cuisines. The Food x Books Project wasn't really about recipes (I turned to those greater than me), or even really about the dishes, but rather what food represented in the books and for the characters. I realised that I'd never paid such close attention to the role of food in a story before, other than when it was really obvious. There were many times when I mentally chided the author for not including food in a particular scene – what an opportunity lost for sensory world-building! 

Nonetheless, I covered good global ground, with recipes originating from Canada, France, England, China (sort of), The Netherlands, Malaysia, Brazil, and Sweden. I definitely attempted lots of dishes I never would have otherwise, which, to me, is a good marker of a successful project. There were mishaps aplenty – melting biscuits, severely cracked cakes, burnt cheese – but I didn't need more than one attempt for any recipe (woohoo!) I also learned that shooting photos of food takes time, and I ate a bunch of cold stuff as a result; but I gradually got better at dividing up time-consuming recipes over a weekend to maintain my sanity. I did relate a lot to this scene from Julie & Julia, where trying to explain the purpose of such a project falls on deaf ears:

I'm saying it's good for me to have short-term goals. 
Who's reading this blog? 
People. People are reading it, I'm sure. 
It's something you decided to do, and you can decide not to. Not one single person is gonna mind. 
I can't stop, I have to finish. It's all I've got.

It's certainly tempting to stop mid-project, especially when you, unlike Julie, actually don't have many readers and will never have your blog become a book. But despite the pressure, I'm always, always glad when I reach the finish line, and not just out of relief. I'm proud of finishing something I started, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and learning something along the way. And though I'm glad to see this project to its conclusion, I'll probably make more food from books when I'm inspired. Maybe I'll even start a different project?

What I want to know," she said, "is this: Are the stars gold paper or is the gold paper stars? 

And with that, dear reader, we come upon another year.


  1. Ahhh!!! Such a wonderful post Kriti!! And congratulations on completing the project - definitely something to celebrate 🥳

    1. Thank you for reading and your kind comment :) looking forward to more books and more food in 2022 – both things we can thankfully do from anywhere.


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